Actually, it got the best of Kyle Larson, as Poole slid up and collected Larson, who looked to have one of the fastest cars on the track at the time and was advancing towards the front.
Larson returned to the track laps down and purposely cut off Chastain a few times as he was trying to run down eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr.
Prior to that, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs did the same, allowing Truex to extend his lead a bit. It came with NASCAR recently taking a strong stance against manipulation of race finishes by interfering with the leaders.
This week Amy Henderson and Anthony Damcott tackle the topic in 2-Headed Monster.
Where Would All the Fun Go?
It’s frustrating when a driver gets held up by lapped traffic, but that’s just racing.
Would you rather have drivers just move out of the way for the leaders and let the leader win the race by half a lap, or would you rather the leader get held up, even if just for a corner, and give fans a chance to see a race for the win?
Why penalize lapped traffic for doing their job: racing? No matter if they are first or 21st, if a driver is racing for position, or to stay on the lead lap in the event of a caution, that should be their right. It’s unfair to give favoritism to the leader just because he’s trying to lap a driver for the first time.
One might argue that lapped traffic holds up certain people to help a teammate or factory driver finish better, to which I retort: If a driver just pulls over and lets the leaders go by, especially if one of them is a teammate, then what’s the point of a teammate? As long as he’s not egregiously holding up the leader (i.e., blocking for laps on end), then it would be impossible for NASCAR to call it race manipulation.
One example at Dover was Ty Gibbs. Gibbs got lapped by teammate Truex, leaving Gibbs as the first car one lap down should a caution come out. It seemed like Gibbs got very racy when second-place Ross Chastain got to him. One could argue that Gibbs was trying his hardest to not lose Truex in the event that he lapped someone else, so Gibbs could fight for the lucky dog.
It’s ultimately on the leaders to find a way around lapped traffic. Earlier in the race, Aric Almirola was about to be lapped and gave the bottom to the leaders. However, William Byron, who was leading the race at the time, chose the wrong lane and essentially followed Almirola into the corner leaving the bottom open for Chastain to take the lead.
It was an unfortunate circumstance for Byron, but ultimately, he chose the wrong lane to take. It wasn’t like Almirola was blocking the leaders, as he gave them the bottom.
Byron just chose incorrectly, and it cost him the lead.
Similarly, it’s on Chastain to make the correct lane choice and pass Gibbs. If Gibbs is being lapped, Chastain obviously has the faster car, so theoretically he should be able to pass Gibbs with ease. It’s hard for NASCAR to penalize Gibbs for race manipulation unless he admits to it like Denny Hamlin did.
Besides, NASCAR handles lapped cars by displaying the blue flag with the yellow cross, signaling to lapped traffic (those who are beyond one lap down) that the leaders are coming and that they need to get out of the way. The sanctioning body has done its part to get lapped traffic out of the way, and typically they do – they just make it harder on some drivers to favor teammates.
Or there’s the second option – drivers make it hard for leaders to pass as a way of retaliation, which we also saw at Dover.
Not long after Chastain finally made it around Gibbs, he came up on Kyle Larson, who was multiple laps down due to a crash started by Chastain on lap 81. Chastain tagged the No. 15 of Brennan Poole and sent him sliding down and back up the racetrack hard into the outside wall, collecting Larson who sustained heavy damage.
When Chastain tried to pass Larson, Larson held him up, costing him more than a second-and-a-half on Truex after spending the last several laps within a half-second of the No. 19 (even with Gibbs in the way). Ultimately, a late caution came out and allowed Chastain to have another shot at the win, but he ultimately finished second.
Personally, I’d rather have a driver retaliate against another driver by holding them up instead of going out of their way and wrecking him. I understand the principle of “an eye for an eye” but fighting fire with fire ensures that everybody loses, including the fans.
It’s almost impossible to find race manipulation in lapped traffic (unless they admit it), as most lappers are racing for position or the lucky dog, and intentionally wrecking a leader as a lapped car is a bad look. So just let them race and let the leaders figure out a way around them, like they always do. –– Anthony Damcott
NASCAR Made Their Bed on This One, and It’s Time to Lie in It
Driver blatantly holding up one of the race leaders when not racing him for position? Yeah, NASCAR needs to put an end to that.
In case you missed it, during Monday’s race at Dover, Larson finished multiple laps down after an incident between Chastain and Poole collected his No. 5 car.
It’s easy to understand Larson’s frustration; he was simply in the wrong place when Poole spun up the track.
In reality, Chastain and Poole share the blame in the incident (Poole jumped out of the throttle very early getting into the corner, and Chastain, who was close behind, didn’t have much time to react).
Maybe Poole shouldn’t have backed out so quickly so early and maybe Chastain shouldn’t have been so close behind an inexperienced driver. It happened, it was a racing incident. Chastain certainly didn’t wreck Poole intentionally. But late in the race, Chastain was racing Martin Truex Jr. for the race win, just a half-second or so behind and closing. It was shaping up to be a decent finish for fans.
Enter two other players: Ty Gibbs and Larson. Gibbs, Truex’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, threw a soft block at Chastain as Chastain lapped him, holding him up for a split second while allowing Truex to get by him easily. Gibbs finished one lap down in 13th.
Larson, on the other hand, got in front of Chastain and mirror drove him, blocking every move Chastain made and ultimately costing him seconds on track and any chance at the win. Larson was 41 laps down.
Earlier this season, Hamlin was on the lead lap and racing Chastain for position at Phoenix Raceway during an overtime finish attempt. Hamlin got loose and slid up the track, admittedly sliding into the side of Chastain (with whom he’s had a yearlong beef) and taking them both into the wall.
Because he admitted it, Hamlin was penalized by NASCAR, with monetary and point fines, for manipulating the outcome of the race.
If Hamlin’s move, which happened while racing for position at the finish, was race manipulation because he didn’t back out to avoid an incident, then Larson’s move was absolutely manipulation. To a lesser degree, so was Gibbs’. And NASCAR must act according to the precedent they set just last month.
Gibbs’ brief block to help his teammate is less egregious; Gibbs himself was racing for a decent finish and trying to stay in contact for the free pass should a caution come out. A monetary fine might be plenty to set an example of what team orders gone too far looks like.
Larson needs to receive the same penalty Hamlin got, perhaps with heftier fines. His was hardly a brief side-draft; he aggressively blocked Chastain and, in the process, robbed race fans of at least the chance at a battle for the win. If not backing out after over-driving a corner because you’re angry at the guy on the outside is race manipulation, then actively blocking him from multiple laps down can’t be anything else.
NASCAR has suffered from a lack of consistency in applying rules in the past. That’s never a good look, and with a new TV deal in the works, the sanctioning body needs to come across as consistent and fair to legitimize itself among other major sports. Fans care about consistency in the application of the rules, even if they don’t agree with the rules themselves.
And with Hamlin, NASCAR backed itself into a bit of a corner here — they have to treat blatant manipulation as such now.
Larson’s move was uncalled for.
He’s caused a crash or two by aggressive driving, and at best, his blocking comes across as hypocritical. At worst, it was a dirty, retaliatory move. Either way, NASCAR was clear on its stance after Phoenix, and it can’t change that stance for an incident that was much dirtier. — Amy Henderson
About the author
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.